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CDC Study Says Schools Can Reopen Without Significant COVID-19 Spread


When COVID-19 tests come back increasingly positive in a community, the trend isn’t always reflected at local schools.

In fact, when schools implement measures like mask wearing, social distancing and sanitizing, they can keep transmission of the virus low.

That’s according to a study recently published by the CDC.

Dr. Amy Falk, the pediatrician who led the study, reached these conclusions by examining 17 K-12 schools in Wood County, WI.

At times, she said the county had up to a 40 percent test positivity rate.

But during the 13 weeks of in-person learning Falk and her team analyzed, only seven out of nearly 5,000 students tested positive for COVID-19 and no staff members contracted the virus.

Credit CDC.gov

“In a setting with very significant community spread, it seemed that with appropriate mitigations such as near universal masking and distancing as much as possible, increased sanitation and other measures that schools took as per CDC guidance, that schools really do not seem to be a significant source of COVID-19 spread,” Falk said.

She said kids in elementary school are less likely to get and spread the virus, but even asymptomatic spreading would result in more staff members and parents contracting COVID-19.

Instead, she attributes the schools’ success partly to significant compliance with mask wearing.

“What we’ve found with our study is that number one, children are fantastic with masking,” she said. “Even the littlest kids, the kindergarteners did amazing with it. Their compliance was never wavering below 90 percent. They just did fantastic.”

Falk said the results of her research, in combination with findings from similar studies, suggest schools should consider reopening.

“I think it’s imperative that we at least start the conversation for many of these schools that have stayed virtual, to at least start thinking about it,” she said.

Approximately half of students in the United States have received virtual-only instruction since last March, according to the CDC report.

That’s taken a toll on student learning and on teens’ mental health, with rates of anxiety and depression rising among young adults since the pandemic began.

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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